It is reassuring to see online shows being made beyond pandemic necessities and especially the productions that push at the boundaries, as this one does.
Written by Jessica Walker and Joseph Atkins (she also sings while he plays the piano), and directed by James Dacre, it is staged as an intimate cabaret and combined with scenes of animation. Its story takes us through issues of gender identity, sexuality, sexual abuse and Walker’s early relationship with a father who kept her existence a secret from his family.
Co-produced by Royal & Derngate in Northampton and English Touring Opera, Walker is a compelling presence with a strong voice, bringing strains of opera to the cabaret sound.
But this show seems both too short – giving us what feels like disjointed vignettes with gaps in between – and repetitive in its thoughts and phrases. There are recurring dreams, musings and observations but these lack focus, and there is little dramatic pull to the narrative overall. As a result, the pace is ponderous even at just under an hour long.
The singing feels slightly redundant, too – a way of imparting prosaic information much of the time and the shorter spoken parts feel like a relief, when they come.
A wedding bookends the production but we learn nothing of Walker’s wife – how and when they met, for example, although she tells us more about previous partners. Neither do we get any real sense of her shadowy father or a sketchy portrait of the “shoe-stand couple” whose presence reminds her that relationships can be lonely, too.
The sexual assault is disturbing but the accompanying lyrics jar as she tries to escape her abuser (“I’m doing the escapologist’s tango”). Still, there are a few powerful moments, including the moment when a police officer asks her to define her gender after the assault – as if this has a bearing on the trauma she has experienced.
Filmed by David Lefeber, the camera brings various angles including aerial shots but it is not enough to sustain us visually. Thomas Hicks’s black and white animation is immensely evocative but does not stay long enough to draw us into its world. Perhaps it would have worked better if the entire song cycle were set against these beguiling illustrations so that they could cast their spell on us.
October 3, 2022 at 07:46PM Arifa Akbar